Despite, or maybe because of, spending a large amount of time sitting with and supporting people who feel dissatisfied or are suffering, I have been captivated with the concept, act and impact of human kindness in recent years. In my waiting room lies a book I’ve had since 1996 titled “Acts of Kindness: How to Create a Kindness Revolution” and I smile whenever I see someone reading through it. In the last month alone I’ve had countless conversations about the powerfully positive impact of kindness yet the irony that discussing and enacting kindness, for many people, sounds “corny”. What does that say about our expectations of ourselves, of each other, of our relationships, when kindness is regarded as unusual and unexpected rather than the norm?
We don’t have to look hard to find sad, frustrating or disturbing experiences and images, whether in person, on the news or on social media. It can be easy to become cynical, discouraged or even depressed when inundated with such things, as we often are when we turn on our TVs or log onto our social media accounts. How many national tragedies have we experienced or witnessed in recent years that were followed by an outpouring of exceptional kindness and unity: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Boston Marathon, and so on. Again and again, people attested to the impact of kindness in connecting people and restoring hope.
Over the last few years, I have actively been paying attention to kindness around me and seeking opportunities to share my own kindness. Recently, I challenged my friends to do the same. The consensus is that it feels good to be looking out for kindness and opportunities to put kindness into action and to model kindness for our children. It seems that most acts of kindness also have a snowball effect, supported by research. What do active acts of kindness look like? Examples range from the simple to the more involved:
being a courteous driver
sharing an umbrella with someone in a rainy parking lot
sending an unexpected note or text to someone
leaving a larger tip than usual
paying for someone’s order behind you in the drive through
leaving a thank you note on a police officer’s windshield
handing out homeless “care packages” on a city street
leaving coupons by items in the grocery store
posting sticky notes with uplifting sayings in public places
leaving a one dollar bill next to an item in the Dollar Store
putting a pair of hand warmers in the mailbox for the mail carrier
Emotional benefits of kindness
Just as negative experiences can impact our brains, so can positive ones. Studies show that levels of serotonin and oxytocin, both which impact our moods, are positively affected by experiences of kindness. Sometimes when clients are hurting, feeling mistrustful of others, or acting irritable with their loved ones, I suggest that they experiment with performing acts of kindness, something that feels foreign in those emotional states. Often, this is initially met with a look of confusion but repeatedly, clients who do so report positive feelings towards themselves and others, an increased sense of purpose, greater sense of connection with others, improved mood and as many have stated “an increased faith in humanity”. These benefits are available for all of us. Now isn’t that good to know?
I invite readers to create your own kindness revolution. And if you would like more “good” in your Facebook news feed, join the public “Good Matters” group to be inspired and to share your own good stories.